Up-Island district trims budget
But it's not the reduction the West Tisbury FinCom
The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee recertified a fiscal year 2008 (FY08) budget at a meeting last week, after approving $109,600 in reductions from the budget as originally proposed. Greater reductions, such as were sought by the West Tisbury finance committee (FinCom), would cut into school programs and services, superintendent of schools James Weiss told school committee members.
The school committee agreed to take another look at the budget to try to cut expenses after the West Tisbury FinCom voted, at a meeting in late January, not to recommend the budget to voters.
During the school budgeting process that began last fall, the West Tisbury FinCom wrote to the UIRSD and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) District requesting level-funded FY08 budgets. When presented with the UIRSD FY08 budget in late January that reflected a 3.82 percent increase, the West Tisbury FinCom voted not to recommend the budget to voters. The committee objected to an escalation in the budget for the West Tisbury and Chilmark Schools when enrollment at both is declining.
Over the last few weeks, James Weiss, superintendent of public schools, and Amy Tierney, assistant to the superintendent for business affairs, met with Chilmark School principal Diane Gandy and West Tisbury School acting principal Edward Jerome to review the proposed FY08 budget and look for ways to make reductions.
In a budget review summary Mr. Weiss presented at the UIRSD meeting last week, he wrote, "In order to meet this requirement, we would need to reduce the proposed budget by $450,000, and that would significantly impact our programs and services."
However, Mr. Weiss, Ms. Tierney, and the two school principals did come up with reductions of $37,077 for the Chilmark School budget and $72,523 for the West Tisbury School budget, for a total of $109,600.
Some of the reductions in expenditures for both schools included conferences and workshops, undistributed supplies, and maintenance.
The UIRSD committee approved the revised budget 3-1, with Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter casting the dissenting vote. Roxanne Ackerman was absent. Mr. Manter said that despite the reductions made in the budget, he voted against it because, "I have a lot of issues with how the up-Island school district operates, and that affects the budget's bottom line."
UIRSD chairman Susan Parker said she felt the budget reductions came close to providing the FinCom with the budget they wanted. She pointed out that Mr. Weiss's figure of $450,000 included $140,000 for buying school buses, which will be offset by using excess and deficiency funds to purchase them.
Subtracting the bus costs leaves a difference of $330,000, Ms. Parker said. The latest reductions of $109,600 bring the difference to about $220,000.
Of that amount, $92,000 is required for residential care tuition for a Chilmark School student, Ms. Parker said. That narrows the gap between the FinCom's level-funded budget and the school committee's budget to about $100,000, she estimated.
Despite a decline in enrollment in the up-Island schools, special education costs continue to rise, Ms. Parker pointed out. She said she sees the investment in early education programs as "preventative." For example, West Tisbury School teaching assistant Victoria Phillips recently told the up-Island school committee that several third-graders who participate in the after-school homework club she runs no longer need the special education services they received in kindergarten.
"When you hear that kind of story and know what a difference intense early intervention makes, I feel irresponsible cutting any more," Ms. Parker said.
Another "wild card" factor for school budgets this year are contract negotiations underway in the Martha's Vineyard public school system, making it difficult for school committees to budget for salaries and benefits.
The revised budget was provided to the West Tisbury FinCom at a meeting Tuesday night and will be discussed at another meeting tonight.
In other business at last week's UIRSD meeting, the committee elected Susan Parker the committee chair, a position she said she would accept for three months. Although Mr. Manter is a senior member beginning his third term, the committee does not have a set rotation for the chairmanship based on seniority.